Wednesday, March 30, 2011


No way to sugar coat it, we got worked over at the Stanford Invite a couple of weeks back. Whether one chooses to blame the Pacific time zone, or a depleted squad, or an ingrown toenail, the fact remains that for the whole of the tournament we were listless on the field, lacking energy and playing complacent.

Perhaps a solid outing at Florida Warm-Up made us feel that we were well on our way - a way that like a greased slide would effortlessly lead us to Regionals. What we proved is that no matter how much talent we have, we are only as good a team as the effort and work that we put into each point of each game. We eked out a few victories, but it was the resignation during our losses that was most troubling. We came back from Stanford with only a week before Spring Break, and a lot of work to do.

The Hodags left icy Wisconsin to their beach house along the shores of the Atlantic in Myrtle Beach. In contrast to last year's destructo-fest, that left little of the house intact, this year's week of bonding was filled with throws and touches. Beach time was an opportunity to throw with a brisk breeze, and the team organized a few team-wide practices to stay fresh and to work on fundamentals - an important focus for any team.

That work paid dividends at Easterns where, team-wide, unforced errors diminished. We found ourselves in a dogfight against Colorado to take the pool but could not convert the score on double-game point, so despite a win against pool winners and eventual semifinalists Michigan we played a prequarters game and faced Florida in quarters.

Our eventual 7th place finish was disappointing to much of the team, because we played well for 4/ 5ths of every game, but we were unable to close games against our stiffest competition and it cost us dearly. However, the silver lining is that our defense generated turns and breaks against all teams present, and we led late in the second half of every game we played. Being able to stay tenacious and shut the door on teams once we've established a lead will be crucial for our success, and we're currently placing our O-line in do-or-die situations at practice where they must convert in straight possessions or lose the game.

Arriving back from Easterns, we were greeted by a sunny spring in Madison. The weather has been brisk, in the 30s and 40s, but when the sun is out we get sweaty and it feels like summer is around the corner. The weather's cooperation has been a blessing to us as a team, and we're outside taking full advantage. Considering that we've only had 5 outdoor practices since the beginning of 2011, we're nowhere near our ceiling and we leave each practice a little better than how we arrived.

Up next this weekend is Huck Finn, a late addition to our schedule to get the younger players on the team reps, and to help us gel on the field. While I won't be in attendance, I think that will probably work in their favor, as each player will have to step up and be accountable for themselves, to each other.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The thermometer outside threatens to dip below 20F, and the clear skies belie cold gusts that slap at the UW students' faces as they walk to class. Although spring is technically three weeks away, its warm temperatures and tree blossoms don't seem any closer now than they did a month ago.

Still, the impending arrival of several cairns signal that spring is in fact rapidly approaching. Daylight savings time is 10 days away. Our sectional tourney, and the college series for everyone, begins in little over a month. And in  two days, we board a plane for SFO and the Stanford Invite.

As I mentioned before, with Lent starting so late this year our annual pilgrimage to Mardi Gras fatefully conflicted with the Stanford Invite. We made the difficult choice of foregoing a geographically closer tournament to play against west coast teams we won't see otherwise until, if all goes well, Memorial Day weekend in Boulder. But this has shortened our pre-series schedule by one tournament, not insubstantial,  making each game more important to our development.

Compounding this, last night was our final indoor practice of the season in the McClain Center. Last year, the women's rugby club dropped a serious ball and missed the deadline for reserving space and time indoors. Their loss was all other club sport teams' gain, and even late in the season where we and several other teams gave them some of our indoor sessions, we had plenty of opportunities to meet. Needless to say, the rugby team didn't make the same mistake again and that, along with a reduction the the number of total dates available to all teams, meant that we had only 4 total sessions indoors. The end of our indoor practices came so suddenly that Feldman and Cullen didn't realize the significance of it being their last indoor practice ever until midway through last night. Cullen worked accordingly, scoring and spiking goal after goal and, at practice's end, spending a few wistful moments reflecting on 5 years of Hodag service before checking back into reality and realizing that he had to get home, at 12:45am, to do some homework.

We can't well spend the time between Stanford and the arrival of warm weather waiting for opportunities to throw outside, so in Wisconsin winter spirit we have to make them. So take some gloves, some Patagonia gear, and 20 minutes outdoors before the cold makes the Ultrastar's plastic so stiff and brittle it could shatter from an dropped pass, and you've got yourself a 'Sconny throwing sesh. We're not a pretty team, but the college series ain't a beauty pageant.

Follow the Stanford Invite here, and check the Hodag twitter feed for frequent updates (or my feed for infrequent but typically wittier quips). See you in California.